Treating Head Lice by Kate Duggan

There are few parents of school age children who haven’t received the dreaded head lice letter. For many of us, it’s a pretty regular occurrence.

Checking for head lice

Head lice are sneaky, quick-footed, tiny little beggars. You’re unlikely to spot the live lice just by looking, so you’ll need to use a nit comb to try to catch one. You can also look for egg cases (nits) on wet hair, and some children get a rash on the back of their neck or behind their ears. The very thought of nits tends to make everyone suddenly itchy, but watch for your child scratching their head when they’re not thinking about lice, such as when they’re absorbed in a TV programme.

If your child does have nits, check the rest of the family, and then use one or more of the following methods.

The constant combing method

Smother your child’s hair in conditioner and then go through every inch of it with a nit comb, wiping the comb on a piece of tissue after each stroke. Repeat daily until you can no longer find any evidence of lice. If your child has short to medium hair, this might be all you need to do. Personally, however, I once combed my daughter’s long hair repeatedly, then decided to treat with a head lice solution ‘just in case’. Within minutes there were lots of dead lice on her shoulders. I’m sure you could get rid of head lice by combing alone but be prepared to make it a daily habit for at least two weeks.

Electric combs

These nit combs emit a small electrical current to kill head lice. They only work on the live lice though, not the eggs, so you’ll need to repeat the process every few days, for at least two weeks. It’s a laborious process that’s every bit as time consuming as the previous method.

Chemical treatments

There are numerous treatments on the market. The stronger ones claim to kill lice and eggs within minutes. Others need to be left on overnight or only kill the live lice, not the eggs. You’ll usually need at least half a bottle for each person, more in some cases. We’ve had the best results with NitWits, Full Marks and Lyclear. None of them have aggravated my daughter’s sensitive skin, but some have required a repeat treatment.


  • Head lice spread quickly. If your child’s best friend has them, it’s unlikely your child will have escaped. And yes, there’s a good chance you’ll get them too.
  • If your child has long hair, keep it tied back, ideally in a plait so it’s less ‘swishy’.
  • Even if your child doesn’t have head lice, try to thoroughly comb through hair with a nit comb once a fortnight, to keep lice at bay. It’s a chore but could prevent an infestation if you catch a stray louse in time.